Kiev cauldron: why the Red Army suffered the largest defeat in the history of wars

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Kiev cauldron: why the Red Army suffered the largest defeat in the history of wars
Kiev cauldron: why the Red Army suffered the largest defeat in the history of wars

In September 1941, the Germans closed the largest "pincers" in earthly history - with blows from the south and north, they surrounded a half-million Red Army grouping near Kiev in Eastern Ukraine. The resulting boiler was the largest ever built in size. What caused this catastrophic failure? Why did the Red Army allow it at a time when there was no surprise anymore? Let's try to figure it out.

Wehrmacht soldiers

On September 15, 1941, two tank groups - Guderian from the north and Kleist from the south - met in the Konotop region (Eastern Ukraine) and cut off the huge forces of the Red Army on the left bank of the Dnieper. You can only understand how unprecedentedly large the cauldron was by looking at the map.

On September 26, German radio announced that the resistance of the encircled was finished and hundreds of thousands were taken prisoner. The reality was not so blissful: the battles to eliminate Soviet units in the cauldron took place two weeks after the encirclement. And yet, the fact is the fact: the greatest encirclement in history the Germans succeeded. And this despite the fact that the Soviet command foresaw it strongly in advance and, no doubt, could have prevented it.


This gives rise to a mystery. On June 22, the Germans expected to build three large boilers - in the Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states, where Soviet troops were planned to be pressed to the sea. These plans succeeded only in Belarus, where the command of the Soviet side turned out to be the least skillful. In Ukraine and the Baltic states, large-scale encirclements near the border were not implemented, which played a large role in disrupting the Barbarossa plan.

Why, then, in September 1941, when there was no talk of any surprise in the attack, Germany succeeded in what did not work out in the summer of that year - with much more recent German troops and in the presence of an extremely important factor of surprise?

"The most important task before winter is not the capture of Moscow, but the capture of Crimea": why did the Germans start the Kiev operation?

The Kiev battle began for the German generals in a rather unexpected way and not on their initiative - as, in fact, the Second World War, the attack on France, the war with the USSR and much, much more. This is because they thought of war for themselves the way they were taught it in military schools, which they, which is characteristic, finished before the First World War or during. Therefore, they were piously convinced that in order to win, they needed to take the enemy's capital: in the case of the USSR, Moscow. Of course, Napoleon had already taken Moscow, and something went wrong with the victory - but the German military leaders began to remember this massively only in December 1941, and before that it seemed to them that everything would work out.

Their calmness looks unusual: after all, generals grow out of officers. And German officers were brought up on Clausewitz, who was an observer of the war of 1812 and constantly used strategic examples from it. However, in reality, there is nothing surprising in this calmness. It's just that the German generals were also people and, like the rest of the Germans, had practically zero immunity to the Nazi theory. And in the Reich, it was brought to the masses by very talented people in propaganda: Hitler and Goebbels. More importantly, unlike typical propagandists, these two people believed what they said - and with their faith they were able to infect the vast majority of Germans.For example, here is Guderian's assessment of the Russian armed forces from the end of 1941:

"Due to their racial limitations and the associated clumsiness, sluggishness and, above all, fear of responsibility (the latter is strengthened under the influence of the political system), the lower command is not able to quickly use the advantages that may be presented to it … The Russian command is below the German."

The words “racial limitation”, which have no scientific meaning, are not particularly needed in the secret military report: it will not be announced on the radio, propaganda is not needed here. Therefore, the appearance of these words is a sure sign of Guderian's real faith (and not only him) in the "racial narrow-mindedness" of Russians. It's funny that in our time his report on the assessment of the Red Army in the Russian press is quite seriously considered … accurate.

So, as we found out, the German generals considered the enemy racially inferior, which is why they considered it possible to set the same strategic tasks for the troops as Napoleon - the capture of Moscow, an important industrial and transport center.

However, the German side also had a man who did not seek to repeat the failed decisions of Napoleon. This man planned the war taking into account the realities of the 20th century - namely, the huge strategic role of the military-industrial complex and oil in modern conflicts. When on August 18, 1941, Halder (the high command of the ground forces) brought Hitler a plan to attack Moscow, he in an extremely energetic manner questioned this purpose of the operation. Instead, Hitler signed a completely different directive on August 21, 1941:


“… The considerations of the main command of the ground forces regarding the further conduct of operations in the east on August 18 do not agree with my plans.

I order:

The main task before the onset of winter is not the capture of Moscow, but the capture of the Crimea, industrial and coal regions on the Donets and depriving the Russians of the opportunity to obtain oil from the Caucasus; in the north - the encirclement of Leningrad and the connection with the Finns.

… Our goal is not to push back the Soviet 5th Army beyond the Dnieper by a private offensive of the 6th Army, but to destroy the enemy before he withdraws."

Why did Hitler need Crimea? The fact is that the Soviet aviation in the first couple of months of the war, although by moderate forces, rather convincingly showed that the Romanian oil facilities are very vulnerable. According to German data, on July 13, 1941, a strike of only 19 bombers of the Soviet Air Force destroyed 9000 tons of fuel at only one Romanian refinery "Orion", simultaneously bombing 17 tanks with fuel. In 1941, Romania supplied the Germans with an average of less than 6,000 tons per day. That is, 19 Soviet bombers "zeroed" more than a day and a half of Romanian oil supplies to the Reich.

Romania was the main source of oil in the Nazi bloc - in 1941, the Germans got more than two million tons of fuel from there. It is clear that her proximity to Soviet airfields worried Hitler extremely. In the first three months of the war, the Soviet Air Force made a quarter of a million combat sorties. If 5-10% of them fell on the Romanian oil fields, the Wehrmacht in the east would find itself in conditions of fuel hunger. And the "blitzkrieg" - a concept invented by British journalists, which the German military perceived as nonsense like the modern "memory of water" - would not have to be stopped near Moscow at all.

Without Crimea, the Soviet Air Force could not effectively bomb Romania. The industrial regions of Donbass played a huge role in the Soviet military-industrial complex, and the continuation of the offensive in the direction of the oil regions of the Caucasus would, in principle, knock the ground out from under the feet of the Red Army - it is simply impossible to fight without oil in World War II. Because of all this, the Fuhrer demanded to turn the blow of Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group, which had previously been marching to Moscow, to the south.


Didn't Hitler exaggerate the importance of the oil factor? Doubtful. Let's open the diary of Franz Halder, head of the general staff of the German ground forces.Here is the entry for September 11, 1941: for the offensive in the East, the Wehrmacht needs 29 trains with fuel per day, and the Supreme Command gives only 27 trains for the most active 13 days of fighting. In October, they will be cut to 22, and in November - to 3 trains per day. That is, ten times lower than the level required for the offensive. As we know, the Germans had to advance before the beginning of December - and it is not surprising that with three fuel compositions per day, they did not achieve success.

Why did the German attack on the encirclement of the forces of the Red Army near Kiev succeed?

It must be admitted: Stalin and Headquarters were, in principle, not ready for such a scenario as the turn of the German tank group from the Moscow direction to the south, to the rear of the southern part of the Soviet front. They expected a reaction typical of the German military: normal attacks on the capital, all according to Clausewitz, all within the standards of Western military thinking since the 18th century. Actually, the Soviet plan for an attack on Germany in 1941 was similar and also intended primarily to take Berlin, and not at all to seize Romanian oil.

Hitler, with his ideas atypical for the military of that era, took a fundamentally different path. That is why the German strike from the north on the future Kiev cauldron caught the Red Army by surprise. This was the reason for his success: Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group, which fought from the central direction to the south, towards Konotop, simply did not have a sufficiently strong Red Army grouping on its way. It was opposed only by the 40th Army of the Southwestern Front and the 21st Army of the Central Front (from August 26 - the Bryansk Front, from September 6 - the Southwestern Front) - and only the last was on the direction of the main attack.

At the end of August and the beginning of September, the 21st Army had 80,000 men, that is, noticeably less than the 2nd Panzer Group of Guderian, which numbered well over a hundred thousand people in the direction of its strike. To make matters worse, the 21st Army had only 499 guns and 8 tanks in late August and early September. The second tank group had hundreds of tanks and thousands of guns. To put it simply, the Germans pounded their fists where the Soviet side did not even have a palm exposed - only individual fingers. And the fate of these fingers was unenviable: before September 26, 1941, the 21st Army lost 35.5 thousand people, of which 90% were captured and killed. That is, it was defeated.

This is not to say that this was an inevitable scenario. Even if the blow is sudden, the side with strong reserves can always turn the outcome of the operation in its direction. For example, the Germans in the spring of 1942 near Kharkov or the Soviet troops in December 1942 near Stalingrad "missed" the first attack of the enemy and allowed a breakthrough of their front. But, having hit with reserves, in both cases the sides closed the breakouts. It could have been similar in the Kiev defensive operation, if not for a few "buts".

Give Kiev or not?

According to the memoirs of Zhukov, the then chief of the General Staff, on July 29, 1941, at a meeting with Stalin, he said:

“Our 13th and 21st armies, covering the direction to Unecha - Gomel [leading to the rear of the Soviet Southwestern Front, which held Kiev - AB], are very small in number and technically weak. The Germans can take advantage of this weak point and strike at the flank and rear of the troops of the South-Western Front holding the Kiev region."


Why did Stalin not react to Zhukov's proposal, and the next day even removed him from the post of chief of the General Staff? Indeed, according to his memoirs, Zhukov proposed to strengthen the junction of the central and southwestern Soviet directions - where Guderian later struck. Reinforce very seriously: three armies at once, one of which he proposed to remove from the western, Moscow direction - where, in his opinion, it was difficult for the Germans to attack in the next two weeks. The second army had to be taken from the headquarters reserve, and the third - from the South-Western Front, the very one that was supposed to be protected from encirclement.

In order for this front to retain strength, Zhukov suggested:

“The Southwestern Front must now be completely withdrawn beyond the Dnieper. At the junction of the Central and Southwestern fronts, concentrate the reserves of at least five reinforced divisions. " This meant leaving Kiev, which was located on the other bank of the Dnieper and therefore less convenient for defense.

In his words, in response, Stalin flared up and exclaimed: "How could you think of surrendering Kiev to the enemy?" The next day he was dismissed from his post as head of the General Staff.

The scene described in Stalin's office is extremely important. If it is true, then the Soviet command, represented by the head of the General Staff, accurately represented the real direction of the German strike at the end of August at the end of July 1941. And not only foresaw, but proposed serious measures to prevent it.


With the strengthening of the weak 13th and 21st armies with three more, and besides with a reserve of five divisions behind them, the Kiev cauldron simply could not work. The maximum that the Germans would have achieved would be to "push" Soviet units out of this area. A "clean" breakthrough through the order of the Soviet troops and their subsequent encirclement with such a density of defense for the Germans would be extremely unlikely.

But was Zhukov telling the truth when describing Stalin's conversation? In the 1990s, this episode of his memories was called into question. This is because there is no Zhukov in the diary of visits to Stalin's office for July 29, 1941, just as there is no Deputy People's Commissar of Defense of the USSR Mekhlis, who, according to Zhukov's memoirs, was in the office at that moment and asked him additional questions. On this basis, a number of historians considered the whole scene an attempt by Zhukov to show himself smarter than he is - a visionary who foresaw the Kiev catastrophe, the largest in the history of the Red Army. And to expose the unrequited, because of death, Stalin to those who did not listen to him.

However, there are weak points in the version about the inventedness of Zhukov's prediction. Firstly, this is the very source on which the version "Zhukov was not at Stalin's on July 29, 1941" is based. The diary of visits to the Kremlin office is indisputably correct in the sense that if it says that someone was at the reception, then he was there. But, as we have shown earlier, if it does not say that someone was in Stalin's office on one day or another, it is far from the fact that he really was not there.

The point is that the Diary is not some kind of booklet with one cover, where the notes are neatly entered. This is a set of sheets, between which there are often chronological gaps, and the principles of which are not entirely clear. It is only clear that some of the people who went to see Stalin were definitely not included in these sheets, but it is not known why.

Let's take the same diary and see: from what date did Stalin not have Zhukov? It turns out from July 20, 1941. That is, the General Staff of the country in the most dangerous war in its history was headed by someone who did not go to see the commander-in-chief for ten days in a row. Why? How is this explained? No: none of those who deny Zhukov's stay with Stalin on July 29, 1941, did not even try to answer this question. Meanwhile, zero visits to Zhukov in ten days look extremely unlikely, and this raises great doubts about the completeness of the visit diary and whether it can even be an argument in such a dispute.

Secondly, another question arises: why then did Stalin remove the chief of his General Staff, if not for what is described in Zhukov's memoirs? This is a totally unclear point. Stalin clashed with Zhukov at the end of June after the surrender of Minsk - and he clashed in such a way that in the end, in frustrated feelings, he left for his dacha, from where members of the Politburo were already taking him out. But then he did not dismiss the Chief of the General Staff, although according to some testimonies, he swore at him quite obscenely, offering not to interfere with his work by his presence in the General Staff building.

On July 29, 1941, the Red Army did not tolerate any catastrophe of the June boiler level in Belarus or the September one in Kiev. The front would be relatively stable, Leningrad and Moscow were far away, and Kiev seemed to be securely held. Yes, on July 28, Smolensk was surrendered, but it was clear in advance that it would be surrendered.And the pace of the German offensive in this direction clearly slowed down sharply. Why shoot the chief of the General Staff in such an environment? If the head of the General Staff proposed to surrender Kiev at the end of July, one can understand his dismissal. If not, it's extremely difficult. None of the historians who deny the reality of Zhukov's prediction have so far done this.


Thirdly, the idea "Zhukov came up with this conversation to show himself as a seer" raises some doubts. Two documents are known where this man reliably predicts the plans of the German command long before their implementation. On May 10-15, 1941, he drew up a document, in the introductory part of which it was stated:

“Given that Germany is currently keeping its army mobilized, with its rear areas deployed, it has the ability to warn us in deployment and deliver a surprise strike. To prevent this, I consider it necessary in no case to give the initiative of action to the German command, to preempt the enemy in deployment and attack the German army at the moment when it is in the stage of deployment and does not have time to organize the front and interaction of the combat arms."

Further measures were proposed to implement this. The sagacity of the author of this document can hardly be overestimated: the foreign intelligence of the NKVD reported to Stalin about the imminent German attack only on June 16, 1941, more than a month after the document of Zhukov's authorship.

Further, on April 8, 1943, months before the Battle of Kursk, Zhukov sent a telegram to Stalin, where he wrote:

“Apparently, at the first stage, the enemy, having collected the maximum of his forces, including up to 13-15 tank divisions, with the support of a large number of aviation, will strike with his Oryol-Krom grouping bypassing Kursk from the northeast and the Belgorod-Kharkov grouping bypassing Kursk from the southeast … With this offensive, the enemy will strive to defeat and encircle our 13, 70, 65, 38, 40 and 21 armies [on the Kursk Bulge]."

The Germans used their forces precisely on this scale and precisely for these purposes - but only on July 5, 1943, three months after this telegram. As we can see, Zhukov at least twice managed to predict the enemy's efforts strongly in advance. Therefore, it is difficult to deny the likelihood that he foresaw the threat of a German strike from the center of the Soviet-German front to the south, through the weakened 21st Army to the rear of the Soviet Southwestern Front.

It is no less obvious that Stalin really did not regard the idea of ​​evacuating troops from Kiev in order to create significant reserves at the Southwestern Front. From the documents it is known that on August 19, 1941, three weeks after Zhukov, Budyonny, the representative of the Headquarters in this direction, also proposed to withdraw units of the Red Army from Kiev. The goals were the same - by simplifying the defense along the Dnieper, to free up part of the front's forces in order to prevent its encirclement.

However, even here Stalin did not give such a sanction. That is, the situation with the Stalinist exclamation "How could you think of surrendering Kiev!" looks plausible - especially considering that Budyonny's initiative (due to the secrecy of the relevant documents) became known only after Zhukov's death.

Why did Stalin reject Zhukov's advice, how did he let the Kiev defeat be realized?

There is a strange situation. In the first half of May 1941, Zhukov predicts that Germany may attack at any moment, and Stalin answers him that it is not, and therefore the Soviet Union receives a sudden German strike on June 22, 1941. At the end of July of the same year, the same Zhukov again predicts the actions of the German troops. It would seem that they simply have to listen to him: after all, once this was not done - and a catastrophe happened.

But instead of listening, Stalin removes him from his post and sends him down to command not the largest front. What's the matter? Did the head of the USSR want a new catastrophe? As before the start of the war, when Zhukov warned him (before intelligence, which is documented), but Stalin did not listen?

It is difficult to answer this question reliably. It is known that in the first half of August 1941, the Kremlin received information from the scout Sandor Rado that the Germans were planning to attack Moscow - and as long as the case concerned the German generals, it was so. What the Soviet intelligence officer did not know was that Hitler would issue a directive on August 21, in which he would change German goals, turning his forces from Moscow to the south, and thereby be able to encircle the Soviet South-Western Front.

But the intelligence warning itself cannot be the only justification for Stalin's position. And not only because it arrived in August, but Zhukov was removed from the General Staff in July. Apparently, the head of the USSR attached too much importance to the retention of Kiev and believed that the Soviet side had enough strength to both retain the city behind itself and prevent the Germans from closing the encirclement in the deep rear of this city.

Having removed Zhukov, chief of the General Staff, Stalin appointed in his place Shaposhnikov, a man whose views basically coincided with his own. Therefore, in order to understand Stalin, it is worth familiarizing yourself with Shaposhnikov's opinion on why the threat of the German encirclement of Kiev "is not so noticeable."

In early September, the commander of the Southwestern Front, Kirponos, asked Headquarters for permission to withdraw the entire front - since Kirponos, according to reports on the movement of German troops, of course, saw an approaching encirclement. Here is what Shaposhnikov replied to him on September 11, 1941, four days before the pincers of Guderian and Kleist closed far behind the lines of the Southwestern Front:

“All these data [about the movement of the German wedges - AB] do not yet give grounds for making that radical decision about which you are asking, namely, the withdrawal of the entire front to the east …

The operation of withdrawal with the whole front is not an easy thing, but a very complex and delicate matter … The headquarters of the Supreme High Command believes that it is necessary to continue fighting in those positions that are occupied by parts of the Southwestern Front …

I already spoke with you yesterday 10.9 regarding the fact that in three days Eremenko will begin an operation to close the [German] breakthrough north of Konotop [which would have saved the Southwestern Front from the threat of encirclement - AB] … And, finally, the most the essential is to smash it [German wedge from the north - AB] with aviation. I have already given the order to Comrade Eremenko to attack the 3rd and 4th tank divisions operating in the Bakhmach-Konotop-Romny area with the entire mass of the aviation of the reserve of the Supreme High Command. The terrain here is open, and the enemy is easily vulnerable to our aviation."

Let's translate from military to Russian: when enemy tank wedges close in your deep rear, it is difficult to retreat - the infantry will have to risk battles during the retreat outside the trenches. Therefore, the front does not need to retreat anywhere. But you have to sit still, waiting for Eremenko (Bryansk Front) to "cut" this wedge with his advance into the flank of the German wedge of Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group. On which the threat of encirclement of the Southwestern Front will disappear, and he will be able to hold Kiev.

Moreover, on September 11, 1941, about the withdrawal of the armies of the Southwestern Front to the east, from the impending colossal cauldron, Moscow was also asked by the representative of the Headquarters in the south, Semyon Budyonny, a man who is considered to be not the most capable commander among us. In response to his request … he was dismissed from his post as representative of the Headquarters here, and on September 12, Tymoshenko was appointed in his place.

This is a very important point. If Stalin was ready to remove him from office on September 11, 1941 for the proposal to leave the impending Kiev boiler, then Zhukov's story that he was removed from office at the end of July of the same year for the proposal to leave Kiev is very plausible.

The Headquarters (read: Stalin) adhered to this position not only on September 11, 1941.Although the attacks of the 2nd Panzer Group of Guderian from the north and the 1st Panzer Group of Kleist from the south closed the ring of the German encirclement around the Soviet Southwestern Front on September 15, the Stavka allowed Kiev to leave only on September 18, when the city was already hundreds of kilometers in the rear the enemy that surrounded him.


Needless to say, the order is overdue. In total, Soviet troops in battles in this direction lost 700, 5 thousand people, of which 616 thousand were irretrievably (mostly captured). At least 452 thousand were surrounded in a cauldron that arose on September 15, 1941. At the same time, the Germans lost about 130 thousand, of which a little more than 30 thousand were killed and captured.

Approximately 21 thousand of the encircled Red Army were able to break through the encirclement, 430 thousand - could not. For comparison, it can be recalled: at Stalingrad, the Red Army surrounded a quarter of a million Germans and at least 25 thousand of them were wounded by the Luftwaffe.

In addition, from July 7 to September 26, 1941, the Soviet troops here lost 0, 4 thousand tanks, 28, 5 thousand guns and mortars, 343 aircraft. Due to the refusal to evacuate large arms depots from this area, more than 1.7 million small arms were lost.

Where did Stalin and Shaposhnikov get the strange hopes that Eremenko's strike and Soviet aviation would stop Guderian?

Some confusion arises again. How could Headquarters be so calm at a time when two German tank groups were not far from each other? Just three days' journey from the moment the Soviet Southwestern Front was completely encircled? The main answer is this: the Headquarters forgot the well-known Suvorov principle “the local sees better”. On the Southwestern Front, in principle, no one doubted that the encirclement was inevitable, and a breakthrough was needed.

Discipline still made the commander of the Southwestern Front, Kirponos, affirmatively assent in telephone conversations with the Headquarters from Kiev (after all, in the army, those who least contradict their superiors move up the best), but the rest did not choose expressions.


The chief of staff of the Southwestern Front, Tupikov, without embarrassing anyone, finished the operative report in 24 hours on September 13 with the words: "The beginning of the catastrophe understandable to you [the encirclement of the front troops - AB] is a matter of a couple of days." Tupikov was absolutely right: it was on September 15 that the German pincers closed, and the Kiev catastrophe began. The largest encirclement and the largest defeat in the entire history of wars, against the background of which Stalingrad, with its quarter of a million surrounded by Germans, does not seem so large-scale.

In response to this fairly honest report, the following came from Headquarters:

“To the Commander of the South-Western Front [South-Western Front], a copy to the Commander-in-Chief of the South-Western Front [South-Western Direction]. Major General Tupikov presented a panicky report to the General Staff. The situation, on the contrary, requires the preservation of exceptional composure and self-control of commanders of all levels. It is necessary, without succumbing to panic, to take all measures to maintain the position and especially firmly hold the flanks. We must force Kuznetsov (21 A) and Potapov (5 A) to stop retreating. It is necessary to instill in the entire composition of the front the need to fight stubbornly, without looking back, it is necessary to follow the instructions of Comrade. Stalin, given to you on September 11."

In general, do not panic, you must fight hard and stop retreating. True, the refusal to withdraw in the conditions of encirclement means the loss of the encircled troops, but … In a word, do not give in to panic.


How the tail can wag the dog, and Eremenko and the aviators - Stalin

We know for certain that Stalin and Shaposhnikov were reasonable people. Otherwise, the Soviet troops would not have been able to end the war in Berlin, clearly showing themselves to be the strongest land army of the time. With an unreasonable commander-in-chief, armies do not win wars.

How could they be so wrong, rejecting Zhukov's proposal from the end of July - three weeks before the Germans began to strike to the south?..Rejecting Budyonny's proposal three days before the closure of the German ticks? Qualifying as Tupikov's panicky report, which actually turned out to be absolutely accurate? Why three warnings in a row did not have any effect and caused only infinitely valuable advice "follow the instructions" and not retreat anywhere?

If we look at the motives of Stalin and Shaposhnikov, they look really reasonable. More precisely, that is how they seemed to them.

The fact is that in late August and early September Headquarters tried to strike at the flank of Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group, for which it allocated significant forces to the commander of the Bryansk Front, Eremenko. The latter had not distinguished himself by that time with noticeable victories, like Zhukov at Khalkhin-Gol, but he had mastered the art of appearing to the authorities as a decisive and strong leader - and this, as every civil servant knows, is a feature of great importance. Often even more significant than the real successes or failures of a particular performer.


Those readers who have not gone through the crucible of the civil service may have a question about what art “to seem more than to be” we are talking about. Let's try to illustrate our words by recording a conversation between Eremenko and Stalin on August 24, 1941:

“Stalin: You demand a lot of replenishment with people and weapons…. If you promise to defeat the scoundrel Guderian, then we can send some more air regiments and some RS batteries. Your reply?

Eremenko: … I want to defeat Guderian and I will certainly defeat … I ask, 21st army, united with 3rd army, to subordinate me.

Stalin: … One question. How do the Il-2 attack aircraft work with you?

Eremenko: … Regarding the Il-2 attack aircraft, the pilots and all commanders are delighted with their actions. They, in fact, in two days significantly inflicted a defeat on the enemy and forced Guderian's group to mark time."

This is how you need to talk with your superiors if you want to achieve something: brazenly confidently, constantly reporting on victories and achievements, how you "defeated the enemy" and "made Guderian's group stagnate." Speak in the first person, pedal with confidence and masculinity: "I want to beat Guderian and I will definitely beat him." Top bosses necessarily make compromises throughout their careers, and the demonstration of uncompromising and harshness is very appealing to him. Fortunately, it often cannot afford either one or the other - and sometimes it really wants to.

Eremenko's problem was that, having mastered this art, he effectively squeezed tanks, rocket artillery and the like out of his superiors, but he could not use all this effectively. He just couldn't beat Guderian.

Well, his stories about the Homeric successes of the IL-2 are generally misinformation. However, this is probably not even his fault, but our valiant Air Force. Modern researchers analyzing the real achievements of the Il-2 at Eremenko state that the losses of the Germans were mercilessly overstated by the commanders of the assault units.

The matter reached the point of absurdity: a group of six Il-2s was credited with destroying 15 tanks, 70 vehicles, 580 people and two crossings in one sortie. During the strike of the Bryansk Front on the flank of Guderian, the Soviet Air Force carried out many thousands of sorties - it is not surprising that Eremenko seriously believed that they had to beat the Germans very hard.

Alas, these figures were inflated to the point of incredible. IL-2 made more than 650 thousand sorties during the war, and in most of them they did not kill a single enemy, and did not hit a single tank or vehicle.

To understand why, it is worth referring to the materials of the Air Force Research Institute, where, after the Kiev defeat, they tried to find out how much the Il-2 can destroy ground targets with their weapons. A rather obvious thing was "discovered": the nose of the aircraft covered from the pilot the place on the ground where he fired or dropped bombs and launched rockets.And the IL-2 could not dive abruptly, that is, lower the nose enough to see where it was bombing and shooting, although its designer Ilyushin promised the country's leadership to "teach" the attack aircraft to operate from a steep dive.


Therefore, in fact, this ground attack aircraft was working blindly. At the NII VVS training ground, the Il-2 cannons could not hit any tank, and bombs hit the 20 x 100 meter strip only in one case out of eight. To hit a tank, the bombs of that time had to detonate no further than 5 meters from it. It is not surprising that in the German documents of that time there is simply no mention of the defeat of the Il-2 tanks.

And yet, the role of the IL-2 and Eremenko's hunting stories about how he will certainly defeat Guderian cannot be underestimated. It is great - but not in the sense that the IL-2 actually stopped the Germans (did not stop). It is great in the sense that all this, up to the last moment, created confidence in Headquarters that armored attack aircraft and a decisive general with great forces were about to cut the northern "wedge" of German ticks - and everything would end well.

As you might expect, it is not over. The Kiev battle became one of the many examples of the fact that events are controlled not by the one who thinks that he controls them, but by the one who knows how to control those who think so.

The German generals thought that they knew the art of war, and therefore prepared an "original" plan for an attack on Moscow: head-on to a dense Soviet defensive group. But it was not they who controlled the situation, but the former corporal of the First World War, who noticed that the flanks of the Soviet South-Western Front were weak, and this should be used. Moreover, this will make it possible to secure German sources of oil and deprive the USSR of a large chunk of the military-industrial complex in the Donbass.

Stalin thought that he was versed in management, and therefore at first did not allow the thought of a German strike to the south. And when the blow became a reality, I tried to act as I was used to - to find an energetic performer and, giving him the latest technique, to achieve a result.

But reality at that moment was not ruled by him, but by those whose specifics he, due to lack of military experience, still poorly understood. For example, careerist generals who know how to present themselves in the guise of an energetic macho, but who are not very good at massaging their forces on the weak sectors of the enemy's front. Or the military from the Air Force, telling about how one attack aircraft kills one hundred enemy soldiers in one sortie, plus 2-3 tanks, a dozen vehicles and a third of the crossing. Eremenko did not stop Guderian - this is a fact. But he wanted a promotion - and got it, on September 12, 1941, becoming Colonel General.

The commanders of the Il-2 units flew the planes, which in most sorties could not kill anyone at all - this is also a fact. But they wanted awards - and received them: the aforementioned tales of just a hundred killed in one sortie for each attack aircraft became the basis for awarding the commander of the Il-2 regiment with the star of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

Stalin was a fool in this situation, and those who were surrounded in the Kiev cauldron that September were the victims. However, sometimes people still learn from their mistakes (although they do it slowly). To learn how to separate macho generals from generals who know how to fight, it took the head of the USSR many more very bloody months. But, ultimately, he got through it.

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